Survey shows BYU faculty feel sense of academic freedom

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    By LATRICIA NELL

    A recent survey reveals BYU faculty believe they have greater freedom to teach their subject matter at BYU than anywhere else.

    The survey “Spirituality and Education,” which was administered in February to BYU faculty, found 87.9 percent of professors polled said they had more teaching freedom at BYU than anywhere else.

    “I came from another university where, over six years, I tried a variety of approaches. At BYU I feel liberated to a degree I could not imagine possible at my former university — to both my teaching and my research,” one professor wrote on the survey.

    Keith J. Wilson, assistant professor of ancient scripture and the survey’s administrator, said the survey proves that BYU professors have the freedom to teach what they want to teach.

    The survey continued to examine the faculty environment at BYU by asking professors if they felt the current approach to academic freedoms and religious devotions was right.

    The survey, which will be published Nov. 29 in BYU Studies magazine, said 74.6 percent of professors polled believed the balance between academic freedom and religious devotion was about right. The survey said 20.7 percent of professors thought the university leaned toward religious devotion, and 4.7 percent believed academic freedom was more heavily stressed.

    The results of the survey reinforced the concept of loyalty to the Latter-day Saint concept of truth, Wilson said.

    “The faculty shows an incredible blend of using both the mind and the spirit to discover the truth,” Wilson said.

    He said BYU professors have a high loyalty to the prophets and to the doctrines of the restoration when conflicts arise.

    “We defer to our religious tendencies rather than to a secular norm,” Wilson said.

    He said the survey showed professors tended to refer to 2 Nephi 9:29: “But to be learned is good if they harken unto the counsels of God.”

    Thane Stallings, 22, a junior from Twin Falls, Idaho, majoring in advertising, and Wilson’s assistant in the survey, said the unity and loyalty of the professors found in the survey shows they feel free to express themselves.

    The survey conducted at BYU came after a report of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) in the Spring of 1998 that claimed BYU’s faculty climate and academic freedoms were “distressingly poor.”

    The report came when a BYU faculty member’s application for tenure and promotion was declined. BYU said the faculty member’s actions and words were “harmful to tenets held by the church and university.”

    The report caused questions as to the interpretation of academic freedom at BYU.

    “The reason for confusion is they don’t see or understand the mission of BYU — they superimpose a secular model instead,” Wilson said.

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